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June 21, 2014

Hospital tax vote disputed

CORDELL — A proposal to dedicate a half-cent sales tax to Cordell Memorial Hospital will appear on Tuesday’s ballot in Washita County, but whether the results will really count will be decided later.

County commissioners have said the petition used to put the question before voters was flawed and have been telling residents votes won’t be counted. However, on Thursday, a judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring the county to let residents know that Proposition 2 is still valid and that, for now, their vote still counts.

“At a minimum, they need to take down the notices saying the vote will not be counted on Proposition 2,” said attorney Drew Edmondson, who filed a petition in Washita County District Court against the county commission and election board on behalf of the hospital. “They would certainly have to advise voters if passed, the vote will be counted on Proposition 2, that it is still on the ballot.”

The Oklahoman reported Friday that a court hearing is scheduled for two days after the election.

The money would come from a sales tax, but the backers’ petition mistakenly referred to a use tax. It appears to be worded correctly on the ballot.

The hospital has been receiving proceeds from a half-cent tax for 10 years, but the tax will expire in September if not reauthorized. It generates around $1.5 million annually.

“We need that sales tax to keep the hospital going so we can provide quality healthcare to the citizens of Washita County,” said Hospital Administrator Charlie Greene.

The County Commission approved a ballot question 10 years ago when the hospital said it needed extra funds. In 2009, however, the hospital wouldn’t share its financial data and the panel declined to put the issue before votes, Chairman James Gee said. After being placed on the ballot by petition, voters continued the tax.

This year, the commission again rejected a ballot question after the hospital wouldn’t share its financial data, prompting the petition process again.

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